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 Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 14:55 GMT
Q&A: Conflict with Iraq
BBC News Online examines the key questions surrounding a possible US-led war in Iraq.

Is war in Iraq inevitable?

Officials in Washington and London insist that no final decision has been made to go to war in Iraq.

At the same time, the war rhetoric has been heightened. President George W Bush has said Saddam Hussein is not interested in disarming and the time has come for the world to demand that he be made answerable for his actions.

The massive US and UK troop deployments in the Gulf region also give the impression that it is only a matter of time before war starts.

Increasingly US analysts are saying Mr Bush cannot afford, in electoral terms, to send so many troops and armaments halfway across the world and not use them in anger.

When might war start?

Military analysts say the expected deployment of 150,000 personnel in and around the Gulf by the second half of February would be enough to launch what the Pentagon calls a rolling-start attack, with more reinforcements arriving rapidly after that.

Other military analysts say the kinds of troops and equipment being deployed suggest that a ground war could be launched from about the middle of March. This in turn suggests that an air campaign might start in early March.

Washington will have to take into account that a delay beyond the end of January or early February in any decision to go to war would see conditions for allied troops fighting in Iraq begin to become dangerously hot as winter ends and summer approaches.

What have the weapons inspectors achieved so far?

The UN inspectors say they have not found a "smoking gun", that establishes beyond doubt that Iraq continues to hold or build weapons of mass destruction.

Robust inspections and Iraqi co-operation have uncovered a dozen undeclared chemical warheads, however.

Weapons inspectors have criticised an Iraqi declaration on its weapons stocks and past programmes as incomplete. Washington has already invoked the phrase that could trigger a war, accusing Iraq of being in "material breach" of resolution 1441 over omissions in its weapons declaration.

Increasingly the US, UK and the inspectors are attempting to put the onus on Iraq to go further than just co-operation and to prove that they are free of proscribed weapons.

One of the key debates at the UN Security Council is how much time to give the weapons inspections. The US seems to be increasingly impatient with the process, while the inspectors themselves say their work should continue for months.

Is there opposition to the war?

Even in the US and UK, the strongest advocates of war against Iraq, there is considerable popular opposition to war. Polls in both countries suggest a majority of people would oppose a war without further sanction from a new UN resolution.

In the UK the percentage of the population opposing a war under any circumstances is increasing. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair would likely face serious opposition from his own cabinet if he sent British troops into action without UN backing.

Across the world and in Muslim countries especially, there is widespread opposition. In much of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, a US campaign against Iraq risks being perceived as an imperial war motivated by oil interests.

Washington and London have been criticised, even by people who generally agree with their position on Iraq, of not doing enough to win over sceptical world opinion.

France, a permanent member of the Security Council, and Germany, currently on the council, have said they are determined to prevent war in Iraq and that they will work together to achieve this.

China and Russia, both permanent members of the council, have said that weapons inspections have not uncovered anything that would justify war.

What are the risks of going to war?

There are several. An invasion could provoke the use of chemical and biological weapons if Saddam Hussein has them and the means to deliver them.

Iraq might have a few Scud rockets hidden away with which to attack Israel, for example. That could draw Israel into any fighting.

The political risks of a war include a break-up of Iraq and the growth of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.

On the other hand, success would rapidly end much of the criticism as it has in Afghanistan.

Humanitarian organisations have warned that civilian casualties will be high in a war, and that up to two million people could become refugees. The UN has warned of Iraqis starving if the government's food rationing system is disrupted by war and not replaced quickly.

Can a war in Iraq be seen as part of the "war on terror"?

It has grown out of that campaign.

Strictly speaking, it is not part of the war on Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network since Iraq has not been directly linked with Bin Laden, though Washington has tried to hint at recent connections.

It is more a part of the wider American war on what it sees as potential threats around the world.

What might follow Saddam Hussein's regime?

The opposition-in-exile Iraqi National Congress is working on a number of programmes designed to reintroduce civilian and democratic rule into a unified Iraq.

A military government could emerge with another strongman at the helm.

There has been US newspaper speculation about a US occupation government that would establish order in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

There would probably in any event be an extended peacekeeping force of Americans or the United Nations.

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